Edition: 2010
Pages: 324
Series: IR/L
ISBN: 9788842091882

The Volunteer

Marco Patricelli


Literakie (Poland); Editions J. C. Lattès (France)



The only person in history to be imprisoned voluntarily in Auschwitz, and among the handful who managed to escape. He fought Nazism and ended up being crushed by Stalinism. This is the story of the ‘bravest of the brave.’ First Lieutenant Witold Pilecki of Poland was thirty-eight years old in 1940. Going under a false name, he deliberately got himself arrested in a Gestapo raid and entered Auschwitz planning to tell the world what was happening there: his was the first document from the camp received by the Allies. A capable, clever and fortunate man, in 1943 he made a daring escape, fighting in the heroic and desperate Warsaw uprising in 1944, only to be imprisoned again by the Germans until the end of the war. When he returned to Poland, he already knew that the ideals for which he fought all his life had not found fertile ground in his homeland. These were the years of the Red Army and Soviet indoctrination: everything that Pilecki had done was considered worthless by the Communist authorities. He was an awkward figure, and was branded a ‘traitor’ and ‘imperialist agent’. Soon afterwards, Pilecki’s fate was sealed: condemned to three death sentences, he was executed on 25 May 1948. His life and work has been shrouded in silence ever since. The damnatio memoriae was absolute. It was even forbidden to mention his name. To this day, twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, his relatives do not know the location of his grave.

The author

Marco Patricelli

Marco Patricelli teaches the History of Contemporary Europe at the Gabriele d’Annunzio University of Chieti and is a consultant for the news channel TG1 History and Estovest (RAI3). His most recent publications include: Free the Duce. Gran Sasso 1943: the true story of ‘Operazione Quercia’ (Milan 2001, Premio Polidoro); Italy’s Stalingrad. Ortona 1943: a forgotten battle (Turin 2002); The Paper Spears. How Poland brought Europe to War (Turin 2004); The Bandits of Freedom. The extraordinary story of the Brigata Maiella, partisans without a party and soldiers without stripes (Turin 2005). With Laterza he published Italy Under Fire. Aerial warfare and civil life 1940-1945 (20092, winner of the Città delle Rose Special Prize) and The Volunteer (2010, finalist of the 2010 Premio Acqui Storia).

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